A bitter row has broken out between UK's two most senior Sikh politicians
By Barfi Culture Team
4th February 2018

An extraordinary and bitter row has broken out between two of Britain's most senior Sikh politicians: Lord Indarjit Singh of Wimbledon and the first woman MP, Preet Gill.

The reasons are slightly complicated, but important for British Sikhs. Barfi Culture reached out to both repeatedly last week to get their responses to each other.

The row is over a campaign led by Preet Gill MP and the campaigning group Sikh Federation UK to have British Sikhs designated as an ethnic minority in the next UK Census. Lord Indarjit Singh opposes this move, for reasons we explain below. He also accuses Preet Gill MP of rebuffing his calls for a proper debate on the issue with MPS so he can explain his concerns.

Moreover, both say they are considering further action against each other.

Barfi Culture is reporting on heated row because it's newsworthy that two of Britain's most senior Sikh politicians are publicly opposed on an issue that may have big repercussions. Secondly, we hope this report sheds more light on an issue that has barely had much discussion amongst British Sikhs.

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Lord Indarjit Singh is a broadcaster, writer and director of the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO). He has been a prominent Sikh voices for decades, advising governments on issues around race and religious equality. In 2011 he became the first turban-wearing member of the House of Lords.

Preet Gill has represented Birmingham Edgbaston since 2017 and was the first Sikh woman MP. She had been a local councillor in Birmingham since 2012. She is also chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Sikhs.

These responses were sent to Barfi Culture by email. They have been edited for brevity.

Lord Singh
"I had contacted both Preet Gill and Tanmanjit Singh welcoming their election and hoping we could work together on Sikh issues. I then heard that Preet had pushed the Sikh Federation demand for Sikhs to be considered an ethnic group in the meeting and had subsequently secured some 120 MP signatures.

I then wrote to Preet and Tanmanjit asking why Lord Suri and I had not been invited to discuss this important issue and received a categoric response that an invitation to both of us had been sent to both of us by Pat McFadden MP's secretary. When contacted, his secretary confirmed no invitation had been sent to any Sikh in the Lords. The election and policy had been effectively rigged to suit the Federation Agenda.

I have subsequently contacted Preet Gill on several occasions to be allowed an opportunity to discuss my concerns on ethnic monitoring but she continues to evade my request. I have incidentally, also offered on several occasions to debate the issue of ethnic monitoring with her and or Dabinderjit Singh [chair of Sikh Federation] on Sikh TV but they are clearly unwilling."

Preet Gill MP
"Unfortunately you have been given the wrong information as I have offered to meet with Lord Singh on numerous occasions. His comment was ‘I will wait to see if I want to meet you depending on your views of census’. [Lord Singh denies making this comment]

I have had to write to Lord Singh due to bullying and mysognistic [sic] behaviour towards me. I am extremely concerned despite my raising of concerns with him he has made this statement to you.

My predecessor Rob Marris never endured anything like what I have been subjected to and stated that since the APPG inception in 2005 Lord Singh has taken no interest."

We asked for evidence for Lord Singh's alleged behaviour but Ms Gill declined to offer it so. However she did forward two emails, dated Sept. and Dec. 2017, in which she offered to meet Lord Indarjit Singh.

Lord Indarjit Singh
We asked Lord Singh about those emails. He said he had always wanted a full meeting with the Sikh APPG, not just Preet Gill.

"The offer of meeting up for a cup of tea seemed pointless and I ignored it. If she gives a convenient date for Lord Suri and me to discuss ethnic monitoring and other questionable policies of the Sikh Federation with the APPG. I will happily buy her a cup of tea."

Preet Gill MP
"He could have attended the Appg the Lords confirmed the notices go out to them. I checked the procedure. He never attended a single meeting since 2005 and never responded saying he wanted a meeting with the Appg."

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The row between Lord Indarjit Singh and Preet Gill MP has arisen because the former feels the Sikh APPG is being used as a vehicle by the Sikh Federation and Preet Gill to push their agenda.

In particular he is adamantly against their campaign for the next British Census to classify Sikhs as an ethnic group. Sikhism is already an option in the religion category.

The campaign is being led by the Sikh Federation and supported by the other Sikh MP, Tanmanjeet Dhesi. In addition, over a 100 MPs have signed a petition endorsing the campaign (though that has no legal basis).

Ms Gill wrote a letter to the Guardian last year explaining her reasoning.

"As there is not a separate Sikh ethnic tick box in the census, the majority of schools, hospitals, local authorities and other public bodies ignore Sikhs when considering jobs and service provision. It also explains why earlier this month the PM’s race disparity audit totally ignored Sikhs."

"The Office for National Statistics (ONS) cannot ignore the 83,362 Sikhs who in the last census rejected the existing ethnic group categories and ticked “other” and wrote Sikh, or the stakeholders working in the education, health, local government and business sectors that recognise the need for information on Sikhs to plan and make decisions on service provision."

But Lord Indarjit Singh says this is not true. In a letter in September he said the campaign would backfire for Sikhs.

"There is no evidence of ethnic monitoring being used to benefit any distinct community in the UK. Muslims and Jews, on the other hand, do well enough without it. Even if ethnic monitoring of Sikhs were a practical proposition, some Sikhs would probably declare their ethnicity as Indian, resulting in under-counting."

"More seriously, in employment, ethnic monitoring would worsen the position of practicing Sikhs. Much of existing discrimination against Sikhs is on the basis of visible appearance. Monitoring of 'ethnic Sikhs' could mask [confuse] and give legitimacy to discrimination towards turban wearing Sikhs. For example, a large organisation like the BBC might pass the ethnic quota test with few, if any practising Sikhs."

Moreover, he says, the Sikh religion was never intended to be specific to just one ethnic group.

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